01 April 2013


Cao gio is a technique incorporated into the practice of traditional Chinese medicine and is better known in English as coining. Coining begins with a massage using a warm oil that is mixed with warming essential oils. Some practitioners use Tiger Balm or another warming ointment. The goal of the oil is to irritate the skin slightly, warming it for the next stage of the process. The massage also relaxes the patient, bringing him or her into a state of centered stillness so that the next segment of the treatment will be more effective.

The coining treatment continues as a coin is repeatedly rubbed against an area of the skin in long flowing moves which always move away from the heart. Blood begins to rise to the surface of the skin, and will leave a mark that resembles a bruise The areas of the body that are most frequently treated are the back and ribs, and the marks will fade a few days after the treatment is over. Coining is designed to bring balance to the body. 
Text and image from Deformutilation, where there is a gallery of a dozen additional images.


  1. It resembles a bruise because it IS a bruise. Clearly one has to "balance" the body by reducing brain and wallet mass.

  2. Cupping produces similar bruising. It's very helpful for some types of back pain, but it does leave plenty of nasty bruises. (Especially if you happen to be on a blood thinner - My wife said I looked like I'd been beaten with a hockey stick!) Sure works, though!

    It's a well-known fact that bruising and similar mild injuries bring increased blood flow to the area, stimulating all kinds of healing from within our own bodies. A skillful practitioner of coining or cupping is extremely careful to never break the skin, as this can cause external bleeding and possible infection.

    To each their own, BJ. I'd prefer to spend my money in my hometown for a session or two of cupping/massage and get some lasting relief for my back, rather than give big pharma my money to pump more of their short-acting, not-really-very-helpful-anyway drugs into my body.

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  5. To each their own, Anonymous. I'd prefer to spend my money on effective medication precisely dosed under the care of a highly trained medical professional for long-term relief than give it to some earnest purveyor of a dubious treatment in an effort to feel like I have control over an uncontrollable illness.

  6. To each their own indeed, Amy. But for the record, just because someone has been trained under a different medical regimen than what most North Americans are used to, that doesn't mean they're a quack or charlatan purveying a "dubious" treatment. Traditional Eastern medicine has been around for thousands of years, as opposed to - what? maybe a few hundred for what is now recognized as "western" medicine?

    There are outlandish, nonsensical folk remedies in all types of medical practice, not just Eastern. It was only the 1950s that "Western" doctors were still telling people that smoking was beneficial. Does that therefore mean all Western doctors are idiots or quacks, because they come from that tradition? Even today, look at how many desperate/gullible people are lining up for so-called "Liberation Therapy" to cure their multiple sclerosis. It ain't gonna happen, but that doesn't stop them.

    As I pointed out in my original post, cupping and massage - practiced in my case by a dedicated professional with over 30 years of experience - has proven to be the only solution for my chronic back pain. And please note that I said PAIN, not illness. And it's not a control issue, as you also assume, but rather merely an effort to mitigate the ongoing pain that medication does little-to-nothing to control and causes nasty side effects. I'm glad you've found that Western medicine works just fine for you, and I hope it stays that way. Why do you have to assume I'm stupid, untruthful or somehow being taken advantage of if I tell you that a particular aspect of Eastern medicine works for me?

  7. If I may start at the ending (and assuming Stan’s permission for continuing this discussion on his blog), I do not think you are stupid. Your writing clearly indicates that you are at least of above average intelligence. I do not doubt the veracity of your claim. I have no reason to and it’s not an unusual claim so I believe you when you say that you have found relief from your pain with cupping and massage. I *will* agree with your last interpretation: you are being taken advantage of.

    That alone isn’t a bad thing. We all make our bargains and if the procedure you undergo works for you and does not harm you or others in another way, that’s your choice. However, your personal experience is not proof that a procedure (or herb or other forms of alternative medicine) is more than the placebo effect. (Additionally, not harmful to you does not mean the medicine is not harmful. Just look at all the poaching of endangered animals to see the harm alternative medicine can do.)

    Not harmful to you doesn’t mean it hasn’t harmed others. I suspect that the physical result of cupping is relatively harmless but it isn’t the only alternative medicine out there. And before you try to separate cupping from chiropractic from homeopathy from all the other treatments out there let me say this: I do not think it is intellectually honest to separate one alternative medicine from another. A medicine is alternative because it has not or cannot stand up to scrutiny by science. People are harmed and even killed by alternative medicines. Go here to read about some of them: http://whatstheharm.net/whatisthis.html

    You point out that our doctors once told us that smoking was healthful. I wasn’t around at that time but I’ve certainly seen the ads and they did show doctors smoking and saying how good it was. Then science proved that claim wrong and we now do what we can to prevent people from starting smoking. If that doesn’t work, we help them quit. ‘Cause that’s the beauty of science and critical thinking. It can correct itself. The same cannot be said for any of the alternative medicines. There is no peer review in alternative medicine. There are no replicable results in alternative medicine. There are no double-blind studies or control groups or all the other parts of science that provide us with proof that something does or does not work. Alternative medicine relies on the placebo effect, authority and faith to work. That’s not medicine. That’s nonsense.

    1. Amy, with all do respect, I am rather astounded by the boldness and veracity of your claims against the entirety of what you have labeled "alternative medicine." Firstly, you have noted that if alternative medicine were to pass the scrutiny of science it would thus be referred to as medicine. To pass this so called scrutiny of science requires studies, double blind studies, etc. For these studies to be effective requires a panel of peer reviewed scientists to approve this. In a perfect world, science would be motivated entirely based off the desire for truth. Unfortunately, scientists and studies are expensive. Universities require grants. Private companies require investments. There is no incentive to spend millions of dollars on the health benefits of turmeric or Reishi mushrooms. There is however an enormous incentive for patentable or dependance driven drugs. In terms of something like Chinese medicine or Ayurveda, these forms of medicine rely upon an entirely different perspective and theory about the functioning and make up of the human body. They account for energy that we don't acknowledge. How can we study something we refuse to consider as existent? We have created a paradigm of a scientific reality and a set of rules based upon it. What if these fundamental rules are flawed? Take for instance quantum physics. Many of the most recent studies and experiments within the field display behaviors of atoms that fundamentally change the paradigm of scientific theory. That all being said, many alternative medicines have been proven through the scientific rigor you speak of in your above convictions. Acupuncture has been proven beyond placebo and a statistically significant variance as effective for various conditions like arthritis. The problem for Western Science is that at its core is the fundamental theory of Chi, something entirely unaccepted by the West. Science is suppose to balance vigorous unbiased study with the openness of possibility. There is a difference between educated skepticism and stout close mindedness. I am afraid you are rather afflicted by the latter.

  8. Massage is alternative medicine, according to the Western medical establishment. Does that mean it's nonsense? So is midwifery. Is that nonsense too? Ask people from countries who have thriving midwifery programs - and whose rates of birth complications are far lower than North America's, BTW - if it is. I think the problem is that you're tarring all alternative medicine - from snake oil to legitimate, beneficial treatments - with the same brush.

    Do you even know what cupping is, or how it works? It is an extremely effective technique - attested by medical science - used to break up fascial adhesions, which are the source of much back pain. It's not as "voodoo" as it might seem, if you'd care to do a little research.

    Of course I think that peddlers of rhinoceros horn pills and other nonsensical cures ought to be treated with the derision they deserve. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, shall we? Massage - in its many diverse forms, of which cupping is but one - has been proven by medical science to have beneficial results. Why do you think it's often prescribed as part of patients' recovery programs - by western doctors, of all people?

    To sum up, I strongly disagree that ALL alternative medicine is harmful nonsense. Likewise, I do not believe that ALL western medicine is as effective or safe as is claimed. Remember Hormone Replacement Therapy? Thalidomide? They damaged and destroyed a lot of lives before the "mistake" was discovered. One needs to inform oneself as best as possible. Any treatment is only as effective as the practitioner applying it, eastern or western.

    BTW, thanks for keeping the level of discourse civil. It's much easier to discuss rather than rant and rave or just hurl invective! ;-)

  9. The fact something has been around a long time has no bearing on its efficacy. Bloodletting has a 3000 year history, but clearly is not an effective medical treatment. (That is of course not the only example, it's only one).

    > It is an extremely effective technique - attested by medical science - used to break up fascial adhesions

    Can you point us to a sample of evidence based medicine attesting to the efficacy of cupping? i can't even find anything even on the topic of fascial adhesions that is evidence based medicine, not in 5-10 minutes on Google, including trying PubMed.

    Massage can be very effective for pain relief. I've suffered lower back pain for years, and when I've been bad about my exercises and it flares up, my physio uses massage as one means to help control the pain. I hardly think any doctor would argue it's effective for pain relief and to relax muscles.

    Surely bruising isn't increased blood flow that promotes healing of the area giving you pain, it's blood leakage into the tissue surround the damaged blood vessels, which your body must now work to repair. If blood flow is your goal, you can easily achieve increased blood flow to an area with heat (heating pad, hot water bottle, hot tub), without damage and bruising. This is another way I get relief when my back muscles seize up.

    I agree with much of what Amy said.

  10. For example, from the same site this photo came from (disturbing site, BTW, won't be back there), there's a story on a long tradition of cooking eggs in the urine of young boys in early Spring each year; these so-called "virgin boy eggs" are believed by Dongyang residents to "decrease body heat, promote better blood circulation and just generally reinvigorate the body"

    Does the antiquity of this tradition support its efficacy?

  11. amy, how many people a year die of side effects of this "scientific" medications?
    how many illnesses like diabetes have been cured completely, not just medicated until the end of life? for all i know no one died because of natural healing herbs and some people actually cured really serious diseases with natural remedies after all the "scientific" medication didn't actually work.. so i guess there is not only one truth, as there is not only one right belief or religion..
    to each his own :)


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